Salem-Keizer expects $700,000 per year in additonal travel costs

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

WILSONVILLE—Emotional parents, booster club presidents and athletic directors from West Salem, South Salem, Sprague and McKay as well as Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry all pleaded with the OSAA not to place three Bend schools in the Greater Valley Conference.

But in the end it didn’t matter as the executive board voted 10-1 on Monday, Oct. 16 to approve the classification and districting committee’s final recommendation.

Mary Lou Boderman, coordinator of Music and Drama in the Salem-Keizer School District and former band director at South Salem, gave the only no vote.

Nine passionate Salem-Keizer parents, five from McKay, three from West Salem and one from Sprague, testified at the meeting held at the Holiday Inn in Wilsonville.

Their biggest concern was safety, citing the new student drivers and bus drivers who aren’t used to traveling in the winter conditions of the Santiam Pass to Bend. One parent noted the 10 inches of snow that fell on the pass last week.

Perry spoke to the executive board about the costs of traveling, which initial estimates call for an increase of $700,000 per year for transportation, lodging and certified substitute teachers. This does not take into account the additional costs to families.

“We travel already, almost all around the world in miles traveled by our buses,” Perry said. “We have a large geographical area, very different than Portland public and Beaverton, who have lots of kids but a lot less geography. We already carry a really big burden for transportation of our kids, much like a rural district, only we have 42,000 students.”

Salem-Keizer also has a bus driver shortage with 7-10 bus driver positions vacant.

“To add this level of transportation, our only option will be to do charter buses,” Perry said. “Ideally, we wouldn’t take charter buses but I don’t know if the bus driver shortage turns around in this amount of time.”

While schools in other classifications asked to be moved down or refused to move up, when requesting a geographical exception, because of competitive imbalance, Perry said that wasn’t the case with Salem-Keizer. McKay even met the criteria to move down but decided to remain in 6A.

“We aren’t opposed to Bend,” she said. “In fact we think they will add nice competition to the 6A schedule. They’re very good teams, very competitive teams but from a dollars and cents, student safety and geography standpoint, Salem-Keizer shouldn’t carry the burden for all.”

While the OSAA placed the Bend schools in the GVC because they are closer to Salem-Keizer than the Southwest Conference and east Portland schools, West Salem athletic director Bill Wittman argued that wasn’t the case if you factor in non-league games.

The Southwest Conference, which has just six teams (Grants Pass, North Medford, Roseburg, Sheldon, South Eugene and South Medford), will have to schedule four non-league football games. While the Southwest Conference has partnered with the GVC in the past, McNary’s football team is playing at North Medford Friday, Salem-Keizer schools would no longer being able to afford to do so after traveling to Bend. That leaves the Southwest Conference having to travel to Portland.

“If Salem is in a league with Eugene, the amount of money that we’d save from our Bend travel budgets is enough to continue our relationships with the Southern Oregon schools,” Wittman said. “We’ve felt an obligation to help out our brothers and sisters down South. My teams at West currently play down there regularly. Those relationships will cease because of where we are with travel budgets. If you’re looking at mileage as the basis for making your decision, take a look at league and non-league mileage.”

Brian Armstrong, athletic director at South Salem, added he’d hate for students in traditionally non-cut sports to not be able to compete because there wasn’t enough seats on the bus

“We want kids to be involved,” Armstrong said. “We want kids to be connected. We want kids to graduate.”

Sprague athletic director James Weber said the OSAA was choosing competitive balance over safety and educational time.

Athletic directors from the Southwest Conference weren’t happy with the final proposal either but for a completely different reason.

“All a long we’ve maintained that the worst thing to happen to us is to end up with six schools in our conference,” Roseburg athletic director Russ Bolin said. “In football, South Eugene may be in a situation where they go independent. We have four league games and we’re going to try to find five football games. We won’t find them. There’s no way to find those games. We’re going to be stuck with some of those scheduling aspects.”

But Bolin didn’t want the Bend schools either.

“They’re (Salem-Keizer) saying it’s not safe for their kids to travel over all the passes but all of the sudden it’s safe for all of our kids to travel all over the passes,” Bolin said. “In reality, the passes that we’re traveling over are a lot more dangerous than the passes that they would be traveling over. I have a hard time saying it’s not okay for their kids but it’s okay for our kids. It’s less safe for us to go there and more mileage.”

Bolin wanted Willamette, which has moved down to 5A, to remain in the Southwest Conference.

No one from the Bend high schools (Bend, Summit, Mountain View) testified at the meeting. Neither did anyone from McNary or Keizer. Although athletic director Scott Gragg previously told the Keizertimes McNary would adapt to whatever the executive board decided.

“You can look at it two ways,” Gragg said. “You can look at it as a problem or a negative or you can look at it as an opportunity. I’m surrounded by leadership in our district that will use it as an opportunity and we’ll make the best and make sure that our kids are engaged and safe and successful.”